My Year of Magical Eating: Auckland’s 2022 culinary scene-stealers you simply have to try

In this regular column, our Editor-in-Chief embraces her long-held passion for dining, sharing the unexpected, fascinating and delicious experiences from restaurants, bars, pops-up and cheap and cheerful spots all across the country. Here, she details Auckland’s culinary scene-stealers, from coveted new openings to neighbourhood classics, all of which you simply must visit.

It’s been a year all right. One that, despite the lifting of tiresome restrictions, has still left many in the hospitality sector struggling to survive. While making it through the ongoing closures of 2020 and 2021 may have seemed challenging, navigating a restaurant through the demands of 2022; lack of staff, inability to hire international workers, increases in food costs, increases in wages, and the continued working from home practices carried out by large city corporates, has left the industry in tatters. One could suggest that in hospitality, if you’ve made it through 2022 without losing the shirt off your back, then you can survive anything. 


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Life has certainly been sticky this year for many, and I’d hazard a guess that those feeling it most are the people keeping the wheels of our hospitality industry turning. So in true Denizen style, as the year draws to a close, we salute the industry that not only keeps us satiated, but provides us with some much-needed respite from our own situations. Because whether you choose to eat out for breakfast, lunch or dinner, when it’s prepared with love and expertise, and served in a welcoming, warm environment, it’s just the salve we need to face whatever comes our way.

Claire wears Alexandre Vauthier dress from Faradays, Serpenti Viper necklace, earrings and rings from Bulgari.

Bivacco Bar & Grill
Ever since Savor Group announced they were taking over the iconic Viaduct Harbour site that once housed Headquarters to turn it into a bold new waterfront bar and brasserie, there has been huge anticipation and excitement for what is arguably the biggest new opening of the year. Bivacco Bar and Grill offers the kind of experience that compares to the likes of Balthazar in New York or Totti’s in Sydney (or others of that ilk). Set in one of the best positions on the waterfront, this exceptional new hospitality destination is serving great drinks, tantalising food, breathtaking views and a convivial vibe.

Accommodating 300 people at any given time, the space is on a scale that we don’t often see here, although it has been cleverly designed to feel intimate and inviting, thanks to a fit-out by award-winning Commercial Designer, Paul Izzard. The interior is truly spectacular, finished in deep, jewel-green tones, dark timber, travertine and marble with sumptuous booth seating and tables surrounding an open kitchen on one side, and casual bar stools and leaners drawing attention to a bar on the other. And while the inside feels cosy and cool, it gives way to a light-filled, covered verandah space that spills out onto the surrounding Viaduct Harbour walkway, where sun-soaked outdoor tables and the bustling hum of celebratory patrons entice anyone strolling by to pop in for a drink, or a delicious bite overlooking the water. 

Bivacco.

On Bivacco’s menu, overseen by Head Chef Ryan Moore, delicious Italian food takes centre stage, where an array of unfussy, flavoursome options cater as perfectly to those seeking late-afternoon aperitivo as it does a long, indulgent lunch. Fresh Mediterranean flavours are heroed in locally-sourced seafood, not only via dedicated platters of prawns, marinated chilli mussels, calamari and scallops (served with salsa verde) but in grilled dishes too, like a wood-fired octopus with celery and potato salad and white bean purée or a wood-fired whole John Dory, served with pickled shishito and preserved lemon gremolata. 

Those seeking something more substantial will find it in beautifully al dente handmade pasta (think goats cheese ravioli with asparagus, burnt honey and pistachio or braised lamb agnolotti with sheep’s milk ricotta, zucchini and mint), and satiating pizzas (with toppings that range from classic Margherita to mushroom and truffle or spicy salami). There is also a line-up of sustainably-sourced, meticulously-prepared meat dishes, cooked to perfection on an open flame. 

All of this is only made better when enjoyed with one of Bivacco’s signature cocktails, a crisp Peroni or a glass of wine from the bar’s extensive list. While the house spritzes with concoctions which include the Hugo (with elderflower and mint), and the Island Time (with rum, lime, sugar and cucumber tonic) promise the perfect antidotes to humid summer days. 

Nailing the balance between laid-back and elevated, and offering the kind of festive atmosphere that makes it the ideal starting point for any fun day or night out. Bivacco Bar and Grill is definitely where you’ll find me this summer.

Bivacco is making after-work drinks more appealing than ever, with a dedicated aperitivo special every weekday from 4pm until 6pm. Patrons can watch the sun go down over Viaduct Harbour with refreshing Peroni paired with a range of complimentary bites like raw white asparagus, drizzled with aged balsamic and thyme and finished with parmesan, or fried mozzarella sticks with caviar, or delicate beef carpaccio with truffle, wild garlic, pickled mushroom and ricotta salata. A casual, pre-dinner snack has never sounded more appealing.

From left: Tokki, Origine.

Origine
This stellar bistro is the brainchild of renowned chef, Ben Bayly and wife Cara Bayly, alongside their Ahi co-owners, Chris Martin and wife, Lucile Fortuna (a group who, combined, have five decades of experience in French-inspired cuisine). Here, the trifecta of French cooking comes alive — seasonality, terroir and technique — with dishes that are flavourful and unique, without losing any of the richness or depth one might expect from a French dining experience. The menu is divided into hors d’oeuvres (snacks), à partager (to share), pour commencer (starters), plats principaux (mains), accompagnements (sides), les desserts, and fromages (cheese), and boasts a comprehensive ‘steak frites’ offering, an enticing line-up of ‘fruits de mer’ (seafood) and basically all of the classic dishes, done with a distinctly New Zealand twist.

Tokki
While it’s highly likely that you’re familiar with Jason Kim’s culinary handiwork in the kitchen of Commercial Bay’s popular spot, Gochu, his newest offering in Milford, Tokki, offers something different. Its menu heroes pared-back yet delightfully inspired cuisine that puts an unexpected twist on authentic flavours. Expect classic Korean fare, with none of the fried chicken, bubbling clay pots or lashings of chilli and cheese one might expect from a typical Korean restaurant. Instead you’ll find a homage to traditional foods in dishes like the crispy chicken wing, carefully stuffed with prawn and mushroom, or the Tokki toasties, filled with layers of mortadella and oiji (pickled cucumbers), or the mouth-watering beef short ribs with black garlic jus and white kimchi. For dessert? Melona smores, of course — a traditional Korean ice cream, presented as little works of art.

MoVida.

MoVida
Regarded as one of Melbourne’s greatest legacy eateries, MoVida, (the Hosier Lane stalwart) put Frank Camorra’s refined, convivial and wholly original take on Spanish tapas on the culinary map when it opened in 2003. In the past few years, with several frustrating delays along the way, Camorra and Savor Group’s Lucien Law collaborated to bring Camorra’s much loved MoVida to our shores, and since opening in August, it’s been a battle to even secure a reservation, it’s that popular. But boy is it worth it. Expect a line-up of iconic MoVida dishes like Anchovy with Smoked Tomato Sorbet and Carrilera De Buey (very soft beef cheek braised in spiced red wine and sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry and served with cauliflower purée), along with a selection of wood-fired seafood dishes like paella, designed to capitalise on New Zealand’s abundant kai moana. The wood-fired oven is a MoVida first, but is something that Camorra has utilised as a new vehicle for his culinary vision and to show off the extent of his talent in his Auckland kitchen. If you haven’t ventured here yet, I suggest you do. You will not be disappointed. 

Duo
A formative force in creating the likes of Culprit and Lowbrow, hospitality figurehead Jordan MacDonald joined forces with his wife Sarah (of Masterchef fame among many other talents) earlier this year to create Duo, which would fast become one of the most popular eateries in Birkenhead. The all-day eatery boasts an evening menu that comprises a selection of snacks to share alongside smaller and larger plates that can either be kept for one or shared around the table. The lamb ribs, for instance, which come with a Sicilian olive gremolata and smothered in apple glaze, are best when shared between friends. But brunch is where Duo has amassed such notoriety, with inspired takes on eggs benedict, alongside fish tartare on toast and indulgent cream donuts. Delicious.  

Ooh-Fa
Since opening in St. Kevin’s Arcade two years ago, Pici has become a firm favourite, and fantastic addition to the City’s burgeoning Italian culinary scene. Bringing in the essence of traditional flavours, the Pici team’s newest venture Ooh-Fa, offers another Italian classic: pizza. (Though, once again, they have stepped it up a notch.) The pizza here is better than any you’ve likely tried before, where flavours range from perfected classics like the marinara with tomato, garlic,
oregano and added stracciatella to more seasonally-inspired offerings, like the cavolo nero with Italian sausage, mozzarella and oregano. And while all the pizza bases are fermented, the use of fermentation extends to the wider menu as well, with small snacks available like pickled cauliflower, carrots, beetroot and onion served with bagna gauda. My hot tip? Ensure you try the woodfired carrots with whipped ricotta and pistachios — a simple side dish that is out of this world. Given Ooh-Fa’s popularity, I also suggest booking in advance.

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